Cook Island Adze: Polynesian Art

Posted on by Richard
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Cook Island Adze are an easily recognised tribal art and admired for their intricately carved handles and complex sinnit (coconut string) bindings

The following is an extract from Polynesian Art at Auction 1965 – 1980 by Charles W. Mack, which I hope you will find informative.

“The so-called Cook Island ceremonial adze were made only on the island of Mangaia. These ceremonial adzes are only loosely based on smaller ancient types with incised hafts (toki tamaki), which were the property of chiefs and apparently served as insignia of rank. Like the Maori Toki pou tangata (plate 620 toki tamaki were used on occasion to dispatch captive foes.

Ceremonial adzes were made after the Mangaians had ceased to use stone bladed adzes as working tools in favor of European supplied metal implements.  These post contact adzes made for the tourist market, were fitted with the abandoned pre-contact stone blades, which were lashed to the newly made hafts with very fine flat braided sennit, wound in elaborate and intricate patterns.

There are three chronological styles of these elaborately carved adzes. All three types make use of the K-Form motif found on Mangaian staff gods. The earliest style differs from the ancient prototype in being thicker and longer. The second style type is distinct from the first in having a short carved base. The third type – sometimes called the Eiffel tower type due to the much expanded and pierced pedestal base – was popular from the mid 19th century to the mid 1920’s when these tourist adzes ceased to be produced.

The diminishing supply of suitable stone adze blades in Mangaia contributed to the cessation of this industry in the 1920’s.


Virtually all Cook Island Adzes on the market were made for sale or trade and not for indigenous use. The only part that was tribally used was the stone head. They are however still a highly collectable tribal art.

Cook island Adze of oldest type

There are three types of cook island adze the earliest being the one with the straight handle like the one above for sale on this site. Even the latest type is likely to be over 100 years old.

Cook island Adze

Middle period Cook island Adze

Late style Cook island Adze

Late style

The ceremonial adze should have a dry patina and not have an indigenous primary patina.

Charles Mack would like them to be referred to as Mangaian Adze not Cook Island Adze.

If considering adding a Cook island Adze to your tribal art collection, make sure you get one with good binding as it is virtually impossible to restore the binding. The straight handled ones are the earliest type and closest to the original ceremonial adze and it should be adze sized.

Polynesian art is one of the safest forms of tribal art to collect.

I Buy Tribal Art especially from the Pacific so if you have an adze to sell please Contact Me



Late Example of ceremonial adze Liverpool Museum

Early example of ceremonial adze in Israel museum



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